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At AEE: Porn Companies Weigh High-Def Options; Licensing Costs a Major Consideration

Las Vegas [gearlog.com]- Last year I read a scathing Los Angeles Times profile of “Girls Gone Wild” creator Joe Francis. At the end of the article was a note that said the author of the piece covered “Hollywood and the adult entertainment industry,” and I remember wondering what it would be like if my beat was porn instead of technology.

Wednesday afternoon was my chance to find out. PC Magazine staffers were in Vegas this week for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which overlaps for a day or two with an annual porn convention. I’d joked with co-workers during the week about ditching CES to hobnob with our country’s finest adult entertainers, but I didn’t really think my editors would be thrilled with the idea. Wrong.

Turns out the recent Blu-Ray-versus-HD DVD battle is a big issue in the porn world, so I was dispatched to see how the battle was playing out at production companies such as Hustler, Wicked, Vivid and others. Many porn companies have selected HD DVD as their format, but a recent decision by Warner Brothers to support Blu-Ray puts the future of HD DVD in jeopardy.

The battle is reminiscent of the VHS-versus-Betamax battle in the 1980s. At the time, the Sony-backed Betamax refused to work with the porn industry, so it took its business to VHS, just as video sales and rental markets exploded. Support for Betamax died soon thereafter.

The porn companies I spoke with, however, did not believe the industry would have as big an influence on high-def DVD formats as it did with Betamax and VHS. Most seemed to think that consumers would have the ultimate say with the devices they choose to purchase.

One of those companies, Wicked Pictures, has been producing in HD DVD by default. Jackie Ramos, vice president of DVD production for Wicked, told me that he was interested in Blu-Ray about a year ago, but he couldn’t find anyone who was willing to work on porn movies. So Wicked went to HD DVD and has released about a half-dozen titles using that format.

Since then, Ramos has found some companies willing to produce for the adult industry, and Wicked will likely have a Blu-Ray title out in the next few months, he said.

Two other major companies–Hustler and Vivid–are currently producing movies in Blu-Ray and HD DVD. But Hustler’s Jeff Thill thinks the Warner Brothers decision will prompt more Blu-Ray releases for his company.

A world of Blu-Ray porn, however, could prove costly. Many smaller outfits–like Pink Digital–are avoiding the format entirely because of licensing costs.

So yeah, porn. No one actually used that term, by the way. Everything was “adult.” At one point during an interview, I used the term “porn” and I wondered for a split second if that was offensive. Then I realized I was conducting the interview near a booth that featured flashlight-shaped sex toys that were intended to serve as a replacement for a woman’s anatomy, so I was probably OK.

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